Category Archives: Fiction

My Holiday in the Peak District, day 4 (morning)

Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4

The men have continued to act as though we do not exist, and indeed, today it was as though I myself were alone with them as Dinah busied herself in the kitchen and left early. I see how she is invisible to them, though she is the only thing that prevents their collective descent into absolute filth and squalor.

They are increasingly strange but no longer all strangers, as I have finally learned the names of the other two — MacReady and Dyson.

Over breakfast M. kept staring into the orchard — a wonderfully ancient place full of twisted and wizened apple trees. He was seeing things, I know he was, but I saw nothing. I am more and more worried about him. About us. That might even extend as far as all of us. In fact, a man came to take Sprake away. A grumpy and jaundiced-looking ‘transcendentalist doctor’ — whatever the hell that means.

Alas poor Sprake, but that I hate thee deadly I would lament thy miserable state.

I have finally manged to catch a glimpse of M.’s journal, and at first it made me laugh — there is a whole section on his equable temperament, how his Protestant upbringing contributed to his work ethic, thrift and abstemiousness…worthy of a chuckle I thought. But a fond one. It felt like catching someone preening themselves in front of a mirror, I felt a twinge of guilt. Almost put the thing down. I’m glad I didn’t.

The rest is the stuff of nightmare.

Particularly the bit about Charteris interrupting him while he was in some kind of fit working over his translations, claiming he had been sputtering on in some strange language, insensible to the world… M. thinks it is a joke but I have seen him do something like it before. I don’t know what to do, don’t know where to turn. I feel as though Charteris is somehow encouraging it.

Then I heard M. returning and hurriedly hid all evidence of my spying, well-intentioned as it was.

Almost I turned down the offer of a walk around the ruined upper half of the village, but could not bear the thought of my poor M. alone with Charteris. I also love ruins. Love. Them. So we walked up the steep hill and boredom overcame my good intentions (and Charteris has shown no sign of strange behaviour) so I soon left them to explore for myself. They stopped in the first room we came to and stayed muttering to themselves. Even when I crept alongside of them on the other side of the wall I could not hear them or get a sense of the mystery they were concocting between themselves, so I had to put a stop to it.

Still, in those stolen moments of a holiday I could actually enjoy I found a cat! A white one. I resolved to ask Dinah why the upper village had been abandoned as it had, the beauty of the ruins only made me more sad.

When I finally and somewhat unwillingly returned to the two men, M. was white and shaking. I don’t know what that damn Charteris told him. M. won’t say anything. I’m going to have to get my hands on that journal again…

Day 4 (afternoon)

My Holiday in the Peak District, day 3

Day 1 | Day 2

Sprake’s told them all he got off with Susan, and he’s gone all ‘funny’ because of it. God, what a liar. M. came upstairs this morning with some kind of drivel about Sprake’s drivel — apparently rejection has sent him a bit round the bend. Which I am sorry for, of course. He sits in his room muttering now and no one can get a clear word out of him apparently, never a good sign at all.

M. went down to breakfast early, said he couldn’t get a word out of the others here, who were all soon off on their work, whatever that may be. It’s strange to find everything wrapped up in such secrecy, though I think M. rather enjoys it. He’s been daydreaming rather than working seriously on his translations, and muttering some rather strange things himself. I don’t like it. I keep trying to tell him we’re on holiday and he shouldn’t keep working.

He’s not so good at turning off. He can’t enjoy the moment. I worry about him.

Anyway, I got breakfast with the housekeeper, a dear older woman named Dinah who somehow manages to retain her sanity in this madhouse. We sat in a pool of sunshine in her lovely kitchen, and I bored her a bit with my worries about M., and then she talked about her growing up in these valleys and family working in the mills. She herself has always worked in the kitchen, and confessed something odd was happening in the house, with all of the food going off within twelve to twenty-four hours of being brought within its doors. She’s never seen anything like it, and been worrying herself for the past few days over whether she should call a health inspector.

Charteris, of course, refuses to admit there is any need to do anything of the kind. He’s just started sending out one of these ‘friends’ to bring in fresh food every day. Wasteful, that’s what it is. Bets do what you employer tells you, though, right? It’s not as though work is so easy to find. I know that feeling — even in London. I can’t imagine a place like this. She insists Charteris isn’t so bad, just very very odd.

I could tell she was curious about my own presence, but I didn’t know what to say. M. keeps insisting we’ve been sent for for a purpose, but Charteris has not yet said anything.

Anyway, we did finally get out for a lovely walk along the moors, all covered with purple heather and splashes of golden gorse with bees buzzing all around and fragrance filling our nostrils. I has happier than I have been in a long time, especially when we stumbled across the old tumuli and the standing stones. There is an immense sense of beauty and peace here, that I have rarely felt elsewhere.

I hardly wonder at our ancestors choosing to be buried up here above the world amongst the heather, to conduct ceremony in this wide open space with such loveliness filling the horizon. Their stones stand enigmatic and beautiful, reminding me there is so much we can never know. I like that feeling.

I was reluctant to head back to the cottage and its dense, damp, feverish atmosphere. For our walk, Charteris had given us a map from 1870 — his idea of a prank I suppose — but we managed just fine and I actually enjoyed seeing so visibly the contrast of all that was here once, with all that is here now. There had not, indeed, been all that much change.

M. murmured something quite interesting as we pored over the map, it reminded me of just what it was I saw in him all those years ago:

Remember, though, the map is never the territory, and sometimes the territory does not want to be known.

Ooh, right? I liked that, though I’m not entirely sure what it means.

Then back to the cottage, which was hardly welcoming despite Dinah having laid out tea. She had already gone, sadly. Dinah cleans and cooks but does not wash laundry — I have noticed Charteris seems incapable of doing it for himself. He is positively mouldy.

If only M. would be a little more normal and stop shrieking at the sight of squirrels I might still count myself happy after such a day. But something very odd is certainly going on with the men in this house, and neither I nor Dinah have a clue as to what it might be…

Day 4 (morning)

My Holiday in the Peak District, day 2

M. continues to write in his journal, hunched over and hiding his words from sight. He’s either working at that or on his mouldy old manuscript. I usually like such things immensely, but this one is tatty and dog eared and has an unpleasant smell. We used to be able to talk about what he was translating, snags and difficulties, curioisities. But it has been ages since M. felt able to share any of his work, rather he has taken to muttering over his translations and I have taken to hating them.

Still, this area is so beautiful. The village is full of old stone houses built every which way along the hillside. The main road curves down through it, but at every turn are narrow passages that send you up or down the hill through a maze of cottages each one more quaint than the last. Flowers are everywhere. Best of all, only a handful of these homes are the overly manicured and perfectly restored houses of the rich and newly arrived. Most are comfortable, lived in. Loved. They sit cradled amongst these great green hills. The shop fronts are mostly the beautiful curved bow windows I so love, and several are full of pastries and books.

It’s a good thing it’s so beautiful, because my god. Sprake. I thought Charteris was bad, but he’s lovable next to Sprake… I was so looking forward to meeting an archaeologist. The disappointment was thus doubled. It’s not the tweed. Sometimes I quite like tweed. He looked me up and down when we met and then ignored me completely until he’d had a few pints down the pub. Then I sent him about his business after his most inappropriate suggestions. I did refrain from punching him, he is a friend of M.’s after all. He huffed off and refused to talk to me any more, started hitting on the bar staff instead.

She did hit him.

But that was later. I’d given up getting a word in edgewise — not because M. and Charteris and the others were speaking too much, but because of their unnatural silences. Their sideways glances at the locals in the pub. Their almost gibbering countenances and the whites of their rolling eyes in the dim glow of the lights. I smelled M’s pint when he went to the toilets for the fifth time just to make sure no one had spiked it. I don’t think they did. It tasted fine. I don’t know how I can find out for certain.

There is definitely something going on.

I asked M. if he knew, demanded he tell me. He could only say ponderously that Charteris has summoned him for some dark purpose, and we would have to wait until it was revealed. I sat in the cosy warmth of the long narrow pub, ancient and thick walled, a cheery wood stove in one corner splashing light across the flagstones. I had a friendly chat with the local bookseller about the nicest, and least arduous, walks in the area nearby. And then we were off.

That’s when Susan, the lovely woman working behind the bar, hit Sprake. The others didn’t see, and he skulked behind, perhaps hoping to make good. I gave her a thumbs up sign and she flashed me a huge smile, and we were off back home. Not before I caught the rumbles of anger from a couple of farmers down at the other end of the bar. I didn’t think it was too wise of Sprake to remain behind on his own, but wise was not a word I’d use to describe him.

We, at least, got home safe and sound. I brushed my teeth and went straight to bed, happy to that way avoid any more strange silences or awkward thoughts half blurted out to which no response was possible. I heard Sprake come in sometime later, and the fuss the rest made of him.

I rather hoped he showed up to breakfast with a black eye.

Day 3

My Holiday in the Peak District, day 1

I am not sure whether I am more driven to write this because my holiday has been on the whole lovely, or because my partner has been acting most oddly and I am worried. I can’t keep asking him, ‘don’t you think that’s just a little bit crazy?’

That doesn’t seem to be helping at all.

He is keeping his own account, but he won’t let me read it. Just shuts himself away, ignoring me as though we are not on holiday together. Writes feverishly and fast, hunched over the table.

We have this friend Charteris. Well, M. has a friend called Charteris. It is a friendship based on the fact that they went to school together and were insanely competitive around most of the same things. It’s been some time since one of them published something, which always seemed to serve as their unspoken excuse for getting in touch and discussing their favourite bits of arcana and sometimes the cricket.

We were surprised when Charteris invited us up for a bit of a summer holiday. We didn’t really want to go, at least I didn’t. Charteris is so often gloomy. He is sarcastic without kindness or wit, and he smells funny. There’s something about the pasty face and the black clothes and the awkward conversation. He’s totally on the spectrum.

I said to M., please let’s go to Italy, I still haven’t been to Italy. I think we can afford it.

But then he bet our holiday savings on the greyhounds, so overnight you can see that Charteris’s invitation started to look wonderful. The Peak District, I said. The Peak District can be a lovely place. As long as you don’t let Charteris ruin everything it will be wonderful.

M. looked up from that musty old manuscript he’s been working on for months and nodded his head. Even then, I confess, there was clearly a strange gleam in his eye. That gleam has become a positive sparkle over the past few days.

He spoke hardly a word during our journey. I tried to break him out of it, take his mind off of whatever held it trapped like a little bird. I held his hand in mine, tried out a few puns. Nothing. That last leg up the Derwent Valley was fucking beautiful, but he didn’t even see it.

Then we got there and I had to make small talk with Charteris while M. sat mute, and only interjected to talk about squirrels. Fucking squirrels. Charteris shook his head. I almost wished for his friends to arrive, though I could not see how we would all possibly find room in his cottage. But at least there would be some end to the silence, I would not be alone with these two…

I looked forward to a new dawn, but first, at my insistence, we were going to head into the village.

Day 2